• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    The fine art of personal correspondence

    Oh, dear. Michael links to commentary about this disturbing article:

    Buying a greeting card for someone’s birthday, anniversary or if they’re feeling under the weather is pretty straightforward. But what if they’re undergoing chemotherapy or struggling with depression? “Get Well Soon” probably won’t cut it.

    Likewise, most cards lining the store shelves don’t work on occasions as someone leaving an abusive spouse, undergoing drug rehab or declaring their sexual orientation.

    For illness: “Cancer is a villain who doesn’t play fair … but it can’t dim your spirit, and it can’t silence prayer.”

    For eating disorders: “All I want is for you to be healthy – healthy and happy with yourself. Please take it one day at a time until you are.”

    For depression: “When the world gets heavy, remember, I’m here to help carry it with you.”

    Leaving aside my overall dislike of pre-printed cards in place of handwritten notes, I still have to wonder why “Get well soon” won’t cut it in such cases. Do people with depression or bulimia or abusive spouses really prefer cards in which their friends spell out all the finicking details of their medical conditions or marital problems? “I am aware of EXACTLY how screwed up your life is” is not, it seems to me, an improvement on “Thinking of you in your time of trouble.”

    And of course I had to see whether there was more about the gay part. There was, with the bonus of a truly awful usage-related solecism (in addition to the faulty parallel construction in the very first sentence of the article):

    No topics were off-limits, said company spokeswoman Rachel Bolton, noting two cards that could be sent to gay people who have disclosed their sexuality. The cards don’t directly refer to homosexuality, only extolling the person to “Be You” or “This is who I am” or featuring a rainbow, a symbol of gay pride.

    Mr. Malaprop, honey? The word you want is exhorting. You might want to tell your copy editor, too.

    Need I say that anyone who had responded to my coming out with a card printed with a rainbow and “This is who I am” would have found himself living a Sean-free life from then on? (I do, however, like the way it’s said that no topic was “off-limits” in one sentence and then that no cards directly address homosexuality in the next.)

    There used to be books–the Japanese still use them–that gave templates and models for writing particular kinds of letters. They strike me as useful. There are plenty of things that are necessary, or at least beneficial, to express that are nonetheless tricky to put across well. I’m not sure off-the-rack doggerel is a good modern equivalent, though.

    Added after more coffee: While I’m on the topic of excessive cuteness, I may as well post these pictures of the ‘rents’ cats, which I promised to do. Like all Siamese cats, these two are drunk on their own fabulousness.

    The guy on the left is Ludwig, who had the aesthetic sense to pose in an environment that picked up the browns in his fur and the blue of his eyes. He and I get along just fine. The one on the right is Romeo; if you’re detecting a bit of animosity in that stare of his, you’re right. Neither of them likes giving up their room to me when I visit, but Romeo pretty clearly dislikes me for reasons that are unrelated to mere sleeping arrangements. He was apparently abused by an owner when he was a kitten, so he takes a while to warm up to men he doesn’t know. I never see him for more than a week at a time, which means that I’m a perpetual stranger. His antipathy does not, however, stop him from seeking out my most expensive sweaters and nestling into them as if they were pet beds.

    Added after dinner: Just to round out the theme of Quadripeds Who Fail to Love Me, here are my old roommate and his wife’s chihuahuas:

    The blond guy is Captain; his swarthier brother is Chance. These dogs HATE me. Whenever I come back to New York and stay with M. and J., the dogs yap at me incessantly. When they do cease yapping, they register their displeasure by growling. Right now they’re being quiet, possibly because they think I may have food to offer them between now and when I take off for JFK tomorrow morning.

    7 Responses to “The fine art of personal correspondence”

    1. Rondi says:

      In the cat mind, the most expensive sweaters are not only great for napping, they’re also a fab spot on which to barf. Careful not to leave cashmere lying around, Sean!

    2. Eric Scheie says:

      Beautiful kitties, Sean!

      And don’t worry if the cats mess up your sweater; I have a number of extra sweaters which I’d be delighted to give you. (They come already broken in with dog hair too!)


    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Rondi, thanks for the warning. No such mishaps this time around…just quite a bit of shed hair. Very noticeable on a black turtleneck.

      Eric, darling, I’m not as hunky as you are. Sweaters bought to fit you would hang off me as if I were prepubescent. Thanks for the offer, though. (And the cats, despite their inflated self-image, are indeed very handsome specimens. I’ll pass on the compliment to my parents.)

    4. Eric Scheie says:

      But Sean, because they’re pre-scented with aroma of pit bull, they might have afforded you protection against the killer Chihuahuas!

      Have a nice safe trip!

    5. Alice says:

      Oh my. Vision of your face on being presented with a rainbow card that says “this is who I am”… (and I haven’t even seen your face)


    6. Connie says:

      Have a safe trip. Sorry I missed you!

    7. Sean Kinsell says:

      Eric, I’m several times taller than a pit bull, and that doesn’t seem to stop them, anyway. Thanks for the thought, though.

      Alice, I’m told I do a great Look of Immobile Shock, though I can’t judge for myself, of course.

      Connie, sorry we couldn’t get together, too! Next time, huh?

    Leave a Reply